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How the request for sand is killing rivers

How the request for sand is killing rivers

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What extinct to be a river in Makueni is now a gaping hole with steep cliffs

That you can no longer fill concrete without sand. River beds are being dug up all over Africa to gas a constructing development, with little opinion for what this vogue for the health of the river, and folks that count upon it, as Harriet Constable verbalize in Kenya.

Sand. The observe conjures tickled vacation recollections: constructing castles from it; looking out at anxious crabs dash all over it; digging big holes in it, and then hiding in them and leaping out at opportune moments to terrify unknowing family. Sand is the operate up of glittering beaches, hundreds of 1000’s of years of weathering to assemble hundreds of 1000’s and hundreds of 1000’s of minute, keen, and yet seemingly insignificant particles. Sand is endless, no doubt. And yet the enviornment is working out.

A seaside in Tiwi, along Kenya's flee, where sand dredging correct beyond the reef has precipitated the seaside to subside and originate to go. This seaside is a key nesting ground for sea turtles

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A seaside in Tiwi, along Kenya’s flee, where sand dredging has precipitated the seaside to subside and originate to go – it be a key nesting ground for sea turtles

Or no longer it’s glaring if you focus on about it. The whole necessary constructing materials – concrete, bricks, glass, are made the utilization of sand. Exploding inhabitants numbers and the knock on need for pattern fill made sand the second most extinct pure commodity within the enviornment after water. Billions and billions of tonnes are being extinct all over the globe.

So well-known so as that a UN document estimated worldwide sand use in 2012 alone can also fill created a concrete wall 27m high by 27m huge all over the equator. We needn’t hobble to the seaside to be surrounded by sand – our cities are genuinely big towering sand castles disguised in concrete.

A sand dredger correct beyond the reef in Tiwi, Kenyan flee, kicks up giants plumes of sand clouds within the ocean. This sand settles over coral, suffocates fish, and muddies the waters for sea turtles who feed on the seagrass on the bottom.

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A sand dredger correct beyond the reef in Tiwi kicks up giants plumes of sand within the ocean – it settles over coral, suffocates fish, and muddies the waters for sea turtles who feed on the seagrass on the bottom

The sand extinct for constructing comes primarily from riverbeds and oceans. Barren device sand, it appears, is simply too silent for the mix. Gigantic projects snappy exhausted Dubai’s marine sand provide, so, despite being a city built on sand, it now imports the topic cloth from Australia. The irony: sand has was such a precious commodity it’s actually being sold to the Arabs.

Harmless as sand can also seem, the gargantuan request for it’s inflicting loss of livelihoods, loss of ecosystems and even deaths.

In India, a murky market for sand harvesting has emerged, operated by violent sand mafias. In China, the nation’s biggest freshwater lake – Poyang Lake – is drying up due to sand dredging. Hundreds of locals rely on the lake for fish, as discontinue the hundreds of 1000’s of migratory birds that cease here every yr.

In Kenya, sand dredging from the riverbeds of miserable rural counties love Makueni is leaving some communities without accumulate entry to to water.

A man collects water on Kikuu River. Throughout the rainy season, water percolates into the sand and is stored underground. Then for the length of the dry season, locals dig little wells within the sand to build up water

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Throughout the rainy season, water percolates into the sand and is stored underground – then for the length of the dry season, locals dig little wells within the sand to build up water


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With the nation’s inhabitants anticipated to double within the next Forty years, big infrastructure projects love Kenya’s unique Well-liked Gauge Railway are necessary. But they need hundreds of 1000’s of tonnes of sand. Kenya’s flee and inland rivers fill all been exploited as of late, however the discontinue in Makueni has been particularly acute.

Kenya's unique Well-liked Gauge Railway (SGR) spans 609km from Mombasa to Nairobi. Its constructing requires hundreds of 1000's of tonnes of sand.

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Kenya’s unique Well-liked Gauge Railway (SGR) spans 609km from Mombasa to Nairobi, and its constructing requires hundreds of 1000’s of tonnes of sand

Right thru the yr, temperatures in Makueni fly to over 35C (95F). Seasonal, sand-crammed rivers snake their methodology thru the arid land. Throughout the rainy season, water percolates thru and is stored underneath. Throughout the dry season, the inhabitants of as regards to a million folks dig holes within the sand to extract water to continue to exist. Nonetheless, when adequate sand is harvested, finest the bedrock remains, and for the length of the rainy season the water merely rushes all over it. No water is stored.

Anthony Mua Kimeu stares on the steep cliffs of the Kilome Ikolya "uninteresting" River

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Anthony Mua Kimeu stares on the steep cliffs of the Kilome Ikolya “uninteresting” River

I visited numerous sand harvesting internet sites all over the county earlier this yr. “We name this the uninteresting river,” a native known as Anthony educated me, staring over the steep, reddish-brown cliff edge into the barren riverbed at Kilome Ikolya River in Makueni.

Just a few years ago this river used to be flat. Now, there is sheer drop of about 10m from the extinguish of the bank to the riverbed. Tree roots jut out awkwardly from the cliff face, and along the dry, meandering river, bedrock stands out of the bottom, glistening within the sunshine. “No-one can accumulate water here now,” Anthony acknowledged.

The farmer

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“No-one can accumulate water here now,” says Anthony, a farmer

For some, sand is existence, and for others, sand is money. In a miserable home with few employment alternatives, the truth of what determined people will discontinue is stark.

Local Police Officer Geoffrey Kasyoki used to be neatly-known in his community for seeking to cease unlawful sand harvesting in Makueni. In February 2011 he used to be role upon by a community of young men in mammoth daylight. They shot him with poisoned arrows, beaten his head and slashed his pores and skin.

Irene Nduku Kasyoki holds up a portrait of her dreary husband Geoffrey Kasyoki, a police officer who died seeking to put his community's sand

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Irene Nduku Kasyoki holds up a portrait of her dreary husband Geoffrey, a police officer who died seeking to protect his community’s sand

Standing over her husband’s grave, his widow Irene educated me, “He used to be killed to ship a message to the community from the sand harvesters: discontinue no longer strive to cease us”. Her chest heaved out and in, shuddering with sobs, and she reached out to touch the sandy mound of earth below which he is buried.

As Anthony and I walked extra along the riverbed, we got here all over harvesters labouring below the baking noon sun, shovelling sand into a pile ready for a truck to amass it.

Sand harvester Richard Mutinda, Forty, shovels sand into a mountainous pile to be quiet by trucks later that day. A hundred tonnes of sand can also additionally be taken a day from this stretch of the Nthange River alone. There are 15 - 20 harvesting internet sites on this river.

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Harvester Richard Mutinda shovels sand into a mountainous pile to be quiet by trucks later – as much as A hundred tonnes of sand is taken from this stretch of the Nthange River day to day

While I watched and puzzled whether sand can also quickly was the stuff of a ways-off childhood recollections, others around me had extra pressing concerns. For them, sand can also point out the distinction between ingesting and going hungry, whether they’d fill drinking water or no longer, or whether they’d ever see their family again.

Hundreds of lorries with regards to arid Makueni county to amass sand from the riverbeds

Photography by Rachel Reed

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